Sunday, December 31, 2017

Putting 2017 to bed. Forever.

Ah, it's almost over. Though an annus horribilis in many ways, there have been many bright spots that kept life afloat in the midst of down now being up and wrong now being right. Here are some of the moments of grace, fun, love, laughter, hard work, and pure joy that have come my way in the past 12 months.

Best Vacation at a Place I'd Never Been Before: Key West with the family. So much fun - great fun, beautiful sights, comfortable accommodations, and watching Liam and Charlotte fall in love with the area. 

Best Sabbatical Moments: I had no bad moments at Atlanta History Center or The Center for Puppetry Arts during my 3-month stint serving both amazing organizations. I learned so much, and even better, I worked with incredible people - creative, gracious, innovative souls who welcomed me into their environments. Still, a couple of standouts: checking the progress of the Cyclorama installation at the History Center and working in Puppetry Arts' museum studio during DragonCon. Two incredible experiences for vastly different reasons. 

Best Family Gathering: As always, our Bully Bartows Christmas get-together, where I store up a whole year's worth of love and laughter. Tides me over through any rough days. And re-creating our 12 Days of Christmas video was the highlight of highlights!

Best Theatrical Experience: Hands down, Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly! I'm still high on "Put on Your Sunday Clothes." Sometimes, you just have to go old-school. (Props to The Great Comet, though. Sad it had to close so soon.) But y'all - Bette Midler!!

Best Weather Experience: Snow! In Atlanta! In early December!

Best Place to Work: As much as I loved working at the History Center and Pupptry Arts, I love my crazy, constantly-under-pressure colleagues who work on the Presiding Bishop's staff. 

Favorite Liam Hockey Photo: The boy loves his hockey! Go, #5!

Favorite Photo of the Year: Last year, it was Liam being pulled off the ground while ringing the church bell; this year, it's Charlotte's emotional Cherub Choir performance before the annual Christmas pageant. Thanks, Lisa Bell-Davis, for capturing the moment.

Thankful for good health, good friends, good job, and great family. We can and will overcome the rest of the mess we're in, so let's put Mr. 2017 to bed and wake up Ms. 2018.  And if all else fails: Put on your Sunday clothes when you feel down and out . . . 

Happy New Year! Cheers, y'all!

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Thoughts and Prayers. Now What?

The world is a mess.

Some things I can't do a darn thing about. If a friend has shared a worry or is dealing with the loss of loved one, maybe all I can offer - and all they need from me - is to keep them on my heart for a while.

But there is an awful lot of stuff - even huge, tangled-up stuff - that needs more than thoughts and prayers. These are the thoughts and prayers than demand action.

My friend may need a hug. Or a phone call. Or a hand-written note. Or someone to share a meal or a glass of wine with. Or to pick up her kids from school.

My congressfolk probably need a phone call, fax, or postcard letting them know how I feel about something pertaining to the latest catastrophe or political tangle. Yeah, it may not matter much to them, but if I keep at it - who knows? Big positive things may happen. (Hope springs eternal, y'all.)

Maybe I need to send money to a reliable relief and development agency that knows way more about how to help in a natural disaster than I do. I can certainly help fund folks who can be of real benefit to people who are suffering.

Perhaps all I can do is listen to someone in pain or in trouble. Even if that person is a stranger, the least I can do is hear her story, put my own agenda on hold for a while, and honor what she has to say. Some positive path may emerge - who knows?

I can always smile more. Pick up that piece of trash in the school hallway. Give way. Hold the door for someone. (And write my senators, send the donations, call the friend in need.)

My own actions won't seem world-savingly grand. In fact, most of what will grow out of my own thoughts and prayers will seem like baby steps to me. Inconsequential. Unimportant little drops in gigantic buckets. But something is better than nothing.

So certainly keep those thoughts and prayers rolling in. But if you're thinking and praying about things that require your action and you do nothing, well then, my friend, it is just so much sounding brass and tinkling cymbal. Pull your head out of the clouds (or sand) and get going. Think. Pray. Do something.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

What Aren't We Hearing?

The other day a friend from Wales requested I blog about the current football-kneeling kerfuffle to help her understand the uproar. I gave her a short but very incomplete answer on Facebook, thinking I could do something more in-depth here. But after much deliberation the truth is I just don't have it in me. Well, not true. I do have it in me. Too much in me. I have lots to say about it. Which is one of the problems.

As a white woman of a certain age, it's not my place to explain or pontificate on this. What I need to do is listen. But I want to make a couple of important points:
  1. We white folks need to stop telling black folks how to act. How about we check own behavior and that big ol' log in our own eyes before giving advice to people who have very different life experiences - just by walking around in black skin - than we do? 
  2. We need to shut up and listen to the stories different from our own. We don't know best, obviously, or our country and our world wouldn't be in the state it is now. Shut up and listen.
  3. Stop saying this is unimportant compared to impending war with North Korea, health care, climate change, Russia election influence, and current weather disasters. None of those is more important than systemic racism and upholding everyone's constitutional right to freedom of speech, regardless of race, gender, socio-economic class, bat-shit crazy politics, or fame. Downplaying what is being expressed here is a great example of white privilege, y'all. 
There's so much more I could say, but I'm going to take my own advice to shut up and listen. And read more black authors. And do my damnedest to walk together with, rather than ahead of, folks who have really important things to teach me. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Let the Sabbaticalizing Begin

It's 6:00pm July 31, and I am officially on a 3-month sabbatical. No, I'm not writing a book. (Or maybe I am.) No, I'm not trekking to the ends of the earth for adventure, or taking a class in Etruscan cinerary urns, Xhosa, or Shaker dancing. I have been instructed to cease, rest, refresh, replenish the well, think, read (OK, and maybe write), so that upon my return to work in November I'll be fresh as all git-out creatively, physically, and mentally.

However. All that rest sounds fine and dandy until reality hits. Little A-type personality me can only do so much chillin'-out navel-gazing before going out of my tiny mind. So, here's the plan.

I'll be splitting my time between hands-on helping out at the Center for Puppetry Arts and interning at the Atlanta History Center. The work of the organizations interests me, and I'm a proud member of both. I'll be thrown into different forms of creativity that I hope to apply to my own job when I return. Both are successful non-profits, not religiously affiliated, and offer a variety of experiences into which I can joyfully plunge. Neither are 8-5/Monday through Friday jobs (I've been instructed to relax, remember?), but I'll put in whatever time I can to ween me off my usual work-a-day schedule and keep me just busy enough for my sanity.

Yes, I will have more time with the grands. More time with family, friends, and former colleagues that I always put off with "Well, I still work, so I can't go here/there at that day/time." More time to test my limits of dealing with unstructured time, which I understand may take a week or so to get used to.

And while I can't wait to see what this sabbatical holds for me, I love my job and will miss being in the thick of things. Which is exactly why a sabbatical is called for.

So off I go, sabbaticalizing. And so it begins.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Summer of Cool

Growing up in the 50's and 60's, summers took on over-arching themes. The summer we lived in Perry, Georgia, will always be the Summer of the Gnat. All I remember about that year is being covered with tiny, annoying insects the minute little 4-year-old me walked outside. Then there was the Summer of Endless Vacation Bible Schools, when Mother made sure we sampled VBS experiences at home and wherever we had relatives - Chattanooga, Atlanta, Nashville. Many popsicle sticks gave their lives for tawdry projects the year of VBS-overload.

But the summer that changed everything was the Summer of Cool.

That's the summer Daddy carved out one of the windows in the den and installed our very first air conditioner. Until that magical day all a Southern kid could count on for summertime cool were open windows (praying for a breeze), oscillating electric fans, popsicles, and the water hose in the side yard. But y'all, none of those - or all of them in combination - came anywhere near the cooling power of a whackin' great window unit air conditioner.

Now, ours was a large-ish house with lots of little rooms. The exception in this rabbit warren was a good-sized den in the back that ran the width of the house. With the TV and multiple comfy places to flop, it made sense that room got cooling priority. Yes, the rest of the house suffered from the lack of a full-powered artic breeze, though strategically placed fans helped move the air through. Still, somehow the whole crazy place seemed, well, cooler in every sense of the word.

It was a brand new world, baby! Cooling air, cooling tempers. Life a Southern girl had never known. And that was the beginning of my AC addiction. I've never out-grown it. When Yankee friends complain about our freezing cold Atlanta buildings, I just tell 'em to throw on a sweater.

Now I do realize that air conditioners are bad boys when it comes to affecting climate change, so my challenge to all you STEM babies out there - get busy finding an earth-friendly way to keep us cool. Because as much as I love oscillating fans, popsicles, and a water hose in the side yard, they just don't have the same refreshing punch they had before Daddy pushed the ON button that fine day in the Summer of Cool.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Can't Help Falling. Again.

I've always been a girl on the go. Little did I realize that sometimes I need to stop. Safely. Without falling over.

While vacationing in Key West a few weeks ago, I decided to join the younger set for an afternoon of calm, easy-going cycling out to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. I mean, I can ride a bike, right? The only thing concerning me was that I might not be able to keep up with the rest of the group (I am getting on in years).

Turns out, keeping up was a problem, but not in the way you might think. The problem wasn't keeping up horizontally moving forward; the problem was keeping up vertically when coming to a stop. It was as if I'd lost total muscle memory when it came to braking, putting my feet down on the pavement, and keeping myself and the bike upright. See? I know how it's done, but my legs and feet weren't getting the message from my head.

Now, I didn't fall every time. A bike lane with a curb to step on to was a big help. That extra 5-7 inches made a difference, I reckon. But without the benefit of something easy to help brace my stop, I just couldn't manage it without some kind of calamity.

It just got crazier and crazier. Once I decided (it was a decision, right?) that old-fashioned muscle memory wasn't working for me, I tried everything I could to forestall the inevitable. I tried not thinking about the stopping process (hoping my body would do the right thing - er, no). I tried repeating the steps in my head before approaching a stop (push down on pedals, get feet to pavement, hold bike and myself upright). Nope.

So I'm wondering, is this what getting old is like? Disappearing muscle memory? The body forgetting how to do simple things that have always come naturally? Or maybe not. Maybe I just had a bad bicyle day. Maybe the bike was too heavy or too big for me. Maybe I needed hand-brakes, not the old fashioned pedal-brakes. Time will tell.

Do I rush out and get back on a bike as quickly as possible, or admit my biking days are behind me? I'm pretty spooked about it. I love riding a bike. Let's face it, it's the first feeling of flying and freedom that you have as a kid. But the pain and embarrassment are still fresh in my mind, just as the bruises are still fresh on my knees.

What would you do if it were your knees?

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Why Life Isn't Fair

Life isn't fair. We say it to our sweet toddlers, surly teens, frustrated 20-somethings, and anyone of any age confronted with perceived injustice. We say it with a shrug, as if that's the end of it. Move on. Suck it up. Too bad/so sad. Life ain't fair.

But why? Why isn't life fair? Why are we resigned to such a lame, depressing notion? At what point did civilization give up on the idea of fairness, of justice? I've wondered about this a lot lately. Sign of the appalling times, I reckon. So why isn't life fair? OK, I'll start:

Human beings. However adorable, noble, or holy folks may appear (and I do believe - probably naively - that people are basically good), every single human is, well, human. We lie sometimes. We cheat a little here and there. We convince ourselves that our opinions are superior to others. (No use saying you're not guilty of these things. You know you are.) And we all have a drive to get as much as we can - education, money, success, chocolate, whatever. There's nothing wrong with that until we use underhanded ways to achieve our goals or tip over to "I got mine, to hell with you," which happens more often than it should. Ego and that wild streak of personal survival is a part of our DNA. Some folks just have wider, deeper streaks than others.

Nature, also known as: shit happens. Accidents, disabilities, earthquakes, floods, famine, scarcity of chocolate. Granted, some of these things are directly caused by human actions (see above), but often it's just nature doing its thing. Fairness and justice have nothing to do with it.

There you have it. Life ain't fair because of humans or nature or a combination of both. One of those reasons needs to try harder, do a better job on the justice-equity thing. Fewer lies. Less cheating. More compassion. More attention to those who look and think differently. Work harder at living-and-letting-live. Though we may not all be equal physically, mentally, financially, we should work harder at being compassion-equal.

And stop saying "Life isn't fair" to that person who needs and deserves a better response to the situation than a sad old platitude. Practice making life more fair.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Diary of a Meh-body

When I was living in England in the mid-1970s, I was given a copy of George and Weedon Grossmith's The Diary of a Nobody as an example of humorous (humourous) British writing. The book's "diarist" is one Charles Pooter, who has the brilliant idea that in a world of famous people's diaries, what was really needed is the diary of a regular guy. He takes it upon himself to step up to the challenge. And while the Grossmiths' characters are hilarious, the takeaway is that the lives of us normal slobs just ain't that exciting.

Which brings me to my latest failure as a diarist. Daughter Kate gave me a lovely daily journal for Christmas, so my New Year's resolution was to write a bit in it every day, as one is supposed to do. I made it through January 5th (sorry, Kate). I even mentioned it was sounding like The Diary of a Nobody on Day 4. Trouble is, all my happy throughts/worries/thanksgivings sound alike, day in, day out.

With one solid resolution-failure under my belt for 2017, I vowed to take it up again for Lent. Before turning on the computer and starting work, I'd make a cup of tea and settle down with pen and journal to, yet again, try to mine the depths of my experiences and inner self(ves). I've managed 6 so far. A little better, yeah? Still, reading back over the pages - boring. I have no special insight into who I am from these pages. At all.

Truth is, regular folks live regular lives. Lovely things happen. Exciting things happen, Tragic things happen. Sad things happen. The results of writing about those things can be phenomenal or just a list of . . . things. Alas, while writing has always been a big part of my vocation, I am flat-out lousy at turning a normal day's events, anxieties, and routines into an engrossing read. I'd need to embellish it. Come up with witty retorts to demoralizing circumstances. Add more color. Paint a stronger, funnier, more poignant picture.

So, truth - a journal or true diary - or embellishment - a good story?

Reading back over various journals I've started over the past 40 years, they all tell the same story: love of family, love (mostly) of work, worry about money, and rage at the ways of the world. Any really juicy, indictable, true stuff I write is destroyed immediately after it's down on paper, usually by setting fire to it in the sink and washing away the ashes. (Yeah, don't go looking for stuff after I'm gone.)

I'm at a crossroads. Do I continue my rather boring daily diary of a nobody? Or. do I write for some alter ego, journaling the life of a fictional me?


Sunday, March 05, 2017

Why I Don't Give Up Social Media For Lent

Well, it's that time of year. Time to give up or take on. Lent. My least favorite season (except for late August, which seems to go on forever). I know I'm supposed to love it in some spiritual way. I just don't. It's a season for me to feel guilty for not feeling spiritual about the whole thing. Ah, well.

Anyway, since the invention of social media, one of the most popular Lenten disciplines seems to be giving it up. Eschewing Facebook, Twitter, blogs, Instagram, whatever seemed to be all the rage last Wednesday, as friends bid adieu until Easter. I get it. It soaks up time. It makes you mad. You (can) become a different person by engaging in the various posts and comment.

I honor my friends who give up social media for any period of time. Go. Be at peace. And, yeah, we'll talk about you while you're gone. *wink*

But giving up social media is probably the last thing I'd do for Lent. Here's why:
  • It's my job. My wage-paying work involves planning, scheduling, and posting about The Episcopal Church on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, and a variety of blogs. Timely information is essential to sucessful social media, so I can't wall myself off from it. And I'm not sure it's possible to do the professional part and ignore my personal accounts at the same time. For good or for ill, I can't give up social media for Lent.
  • I can't imagine doing something that takes me out of relationship with family and friends. Facebook, especially, keeps me close to far-flung family, old school chums, and colleagues that I don't often - if ever - see. I intentionally keep the number of "friends" there small - for folks I really want to stay connected with. I love the pictures. I love the silly posts about food or cats or politics. I love watching children grow, relationships blossom, and both happy and sad events unfold. I love going on vacation with y'all and following careers. Why would I give that up? Seems the opposite of what Lent should be, but that's just me.
  • If I give up social media, how would the world keep turning without our Friday Virtual Cocktail Party? Civilization would be fractured. The world as we know it would end. I cannot in good faith be responsible for that. 
So I'm still here, Lent or no. Never fear - our Friday Virtual Cocktail Party shall go on whatever color the season. Cheers!

Monday, February 27, 2017

A Crazy Woman's Guide to the Perfect Day Off

After a busy couple of weeks involving tending a sick grandgirl, fighting off a cold, travel, booth-tending, and grandboy's birthday party, I was glad for a day off with no plans and obligations. Relaxing, however, is not one of my natural gifts. I was determined, though, to recharge my batteries today, and I think I succeeded. Here's the recipe for a perfect day off:
  1. The night before, stay up reading as long as you want. I recommend, say, until 1-1:30am.
  2. Sleep in as late as you want (for me, 9-ish am).
  3. OK, OK, do a tiny bit of work that just has to be done because if you don't, it will bug you all day. Then turn off the computer and don't answer the work phone. 
  4. Watch old episodes of Perry Mason (I am my mother's daughter - she loved her some Perry Mason) or whatever goofy thing lets you sit with feet up in your pjs. 
  5. Order lunch from Uber. Do not leave the house, even for food. No need.
  6. Take an afternoon nap. Just because you can. And it might be raining, so . . . 
  7. Get up just in time to drive to a 90-minute massage. Try to fall asleep on the massage table. 
  8. Go back to watching Perry Masons (did I mention I'm my mother's daughter?) or catch up on Bates Motel. Whatever.
  9. Eat junk food.
  10. Go to bed. 
So there. The perfect day off. Now, back to work tomorrow, you lazy chick!

Wednesday, February 08, 2017


Reading over my scared but hopeful post of January 1st, I realize that I have completely failed to live up to those feathers of hope. Instead, I find myself angry. Tired. Still living in a state of disbelief that we seem to be living in some strange, 19th century alternate universe after November's appalling election results.

What I thought was a pretty solid values system hammered out after the atrocities of two world wars and the civil rights/women's rights/LGBT rights movements of the past fifty years appears to have evaporated.

People shouting in praise God and Jesus and the literal interpretation of the Bible are also shouting in hatred against the poor, the stranger, clean air, food, and water, and the basic health, education, and well-being of fellow human beings. Excuse my scepticism of your personal understanding of living the way of Christ.

Every morning I wake up determined to make the day positive, light-filled. I pledge not to let anything rattle me. Shun the news. Keep things on the sunny side. But it doesn't take long before some word of an unbelievable injustice seeps through an email or phone call or, yes, a social media post, and then my sweetness-and-light plan evaporates.

Despite my stuck-ness, I manage to put up a good front. I get work done. Have a few laughs. Take walks. Read. Plan and carry out stuff. Manage to keep my home clean and stocked with food. But something still has hold of an arm or a leg and keeps me from moving forward, outward, onward.

The only truly unstuck time is when I'm with Liam and Charlotte. They make me laugh and look at things in new, fresh ways. They ask impossible questions with impossible answers. We get messy and tired and artsy and silly together. There's no time to be stuck if really in the moment with funny little kids.

But without them, I find myself in quicksand again. Angry. Unbelieving. Appalled. Despairing.

Folks remind me that love will win in the end, and, yes, I believe that. But in the meantime . . . what? How much damage gets done, how many lives lost and broken in the meantime, before love finally shows up?

So here I am. Stuck.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

For 2017, That Thing with Feathers

“Hope” is the thing with feathers 
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops - at all
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm
I’ve heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest Sea
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.
~ Emily Dickinson  
I start this year discouraged. I'm discouraged that smart is dumb, and dumb is smart. That saying and doing hateful things is right, and checking your mouth and actions out of common decency is wrong. That looking backward to some fantasyland bygone age is where we should be headed, but looking to the future with clear-eyed understanding of how the world functions in the 21st century based on scientific knowledge (and I'd say, God-given scientific knowledge) is ridiculed. So, yes, the start of 2017 finds me deeply discouraged.

What I'm left with on this first day of a new year is that thing with feathers, hope. A cardinal-in-the-snow type of hope. Hope exemplified every day by the little children in my life, by colleagues, by family and friends near and far, by mere acquaintances - all loving and living out the good. The true good.

My New Year's plan is to keep my eyes turned toward the good that gives me hope. I'm going to hang on tight to the folks who reach out to help, not hurt. Who speak with respect and love, not hate and bigotry. Who foster understanding, not humiliation. That's the best I can do in these times. Maybe if enough of us do that, then that thing with feathers can flourish and give us a better song to sing.

Happy New Year, all!